IRBIL, Iraq – A Palestinian-American member of the Islamic State group gave himself up to Iraqi Kurdish forces in the country’s north on Monday, an Iraqi Kurdish general said, a rare instance of a voluntary surrender of a militant fighting with the extremist group in Iraq.
The man had been “lurking near the peshmerga lines” since late Sunday night, according to Maj. Gen. Feisal Helkani of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, which are playing key role – along with the Iraqi military – in battling the extremist IS group.
Helkani said his troops first tried to shoot the man, assuming he was a would-be suicide bomber.
“Then in the morning, he walked across and gave himself up,” Helkani said, adding that the man is a Palestinian-American who was fighting with IS in Iraq. The surrender took place on the front lines near the town of Sinjar, which was retaken by Iraqi forces from IS militants late last year.
Helkani identified the man as Mohammed Jamal Amin and said he was carrying with him a large amount of cash, three cellphones and three forms of identification, including a U.S. driving license. The IS fighter is currently being held by the peshmerga troops for interrogation, Helkani added.
The Iraqi Kurdish general did not provide further details or a hometown for the man but a photograph of the IS fighter’s American driving license was posted on social media sites, identifying him as Mohamad Jamal Khweis, 27, from Alexandria, Virginia.
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The discrepancy between the fighter’s family name on the license and the one provided by the Kurdish general could not immediately be reconciled. His first name was also spelled differently.
In grainy cellphone footage, also posted on social media shortly after the surrender, the man is seen surrounded by Iraqi Kurdish troops and confirming that he is from the United States and that he is Palestinian. In response to an interrogator’s question, he says he was in the city of Mosul, which is under IS control.
Though rare in Iraq, Syrian Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State in neighbouring Syria have told The Associated Press that they are seeing an increase in the number of IS members surrendering following recent territorial losses.
Last week, Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, announced that IS had lost more than 3,000 square kilometres (1,158 square miles) of territory in Syria and more than 600 fighters over the past month.
In Iraq, the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a series of suicide attacks that have killed more than 170 people over the past few weeks. Iraqi officials also say the group has launched a number of chemical weapons attacks.
Local officials in the town of Taza in Iraq’s north say a recent attack injured more than 600 people. The attacks follow a string of advances by Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, including in the western city of Ramadi, which was declared fully “liberated” by Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition officials last month.
IS still controls large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria and has declared an Islamic “caliphate” on the territory it holds. The extremist group also controls Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, as well as the city of Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometres) west of Baghdad.